Editor's Commentary: On Violence – The Feminist Wire

Editor's Commentary: On Violence

How can we be ethically opposed to some forms of violence while being in favor of others?

This question was on my mind the day after the July shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Amid a chorus of mourning in the mainstream media that spoke about this mass shooting as something so horrible because it hit “close to home” for many people in the United States, I wrote the following to my fellow TFW Collective Editors:

“As tragic as this incident in Aurora is and as much as I feel for the families and those for whom this incident strikes too close to home, I am preoccupied by the possibility that the violence of this one incident overshadows the violence in other incidents like [the killings in] Chicago and Mexico, places that are likewise close to home for many of us.”

I had been reading the works of a diverse array of writers—including James Baldwin, Ward Churchill, Paul Farmer, Allen Feldman, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Saidiya Hartman, Dylan Rodriguez, Jared Sexton, Hortense Spillers, and Frank Wilderson. This had led me to broaden my understanding of how violence operates in the world. It was evident that there was a need for media outlets like The Feminist Wire to encourage a deeper appreciation of how acts of violence differ from paradigms or structures of violence. I wanted to call attention to structures of violence that are often overlooked when the media focuses on such spectacular events of bloodshed while overlooking a lot of other things that damage people’s psyches, ways of knowing, and life expectancies. In short, I hoped to invite my fellow writers to complicate the ways that we, and our readers, view violence. The result is this week’s Forum on Violence, a five-day series of articles, short stories, and poems taking up this task.

Yesterday, the first day of our Forum, was also Columbus Day. It marks Christopher Columbus’s intervention in the Americas on behalf of the Spanish crown in the year 1492 of the Common Era. This day has long been celebrated in history books as the date of the “discovery of America,” something that gave Europeans a place to “start over” as “free” people. But, of course, Columbus’s landing on the island he called Hispaniola was the spearhead of a genocidal intervention against Native Americans. That 1492 intervention would ultimately reduce the Native population of the present-day United States from around 19 million to 250,000 by the end of the 19th century. It also marked a violent redrawing of the world map that would open the trade in enslaved African bodies to the Americas, transported and slaughtered in numbers ranging into the tens of millions. Some people cite these events to mark the beginning of what we call the modern world, broadly speaking, the world as we know it now. This world, along with identities like Native American and Black, is structured by violence, inscribed in how we are gendered, raced, and sexualized.

Throughout the week, The Feminist Wire Forum on Violence will take up various definitions of what violence is and spotlight forms of violence that are often normalized or otherwise rendered invisible. Two pieces have already been posted, the first of around a dozen essays, short stories, and poems. John Murillo III’s short story, “‘Black Spaghetti;’ or, ‘Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia,'” meditates on a quote from poet Nikki Giovanni about the costs of freedom struggles on Black and nonblack bodies. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández’s essay, “The Precarity of Latino/a Child-Citizen Subjects: From Dora the Explorer to Child Deportees,” reflects on images that depict imagined physical violence that Arizona’s SB 1070 law would do to a popular cartoon character, showing how these images mirror the ways that structures of power do violence to actual Latino/a children.

The Feminist Wire’s Forum on Violence asks you to think about what counts as violence, what we mourn as violence, and, importantly, what we often don’t count or mourn as violence.